Blackface furore stuns Leon Schuster

Leon Schuster's films have been taken off Showmax. / Russell Roberts
Leon Schuster's films have been taken off Showmax. / Russell Roberts

Leon Schuster says he's in a state of confusion after MultiChoice decided to pull his films using blackface from streaming service Showmax.

Public broadcaster the SABC yesterday indicated it is considering a similar move.

The veteran comedian has portrayed countless characters in blackface in about nine of his hugely successful films over the years, including Mama Jack, There's a Zulu On My Stoep and Mr Bones. The content has been deemed racially insensitive by some South Africans.

Yesterday, Schuster told Sowetan that he was "disappointed" that his films were removed from Showmax.

"I'm obviously very disappointed and I don't see the reason behind it. I'm trying to find the reason and I'm battling," Schuster said. "I try to bring people together with laughter. There is no race in my heart. I don't see black, white, pink or purple - I just see a person.

"If they are in my region when I do candid camera I go for whoever it is... I don't have preference to one race.

"... There has never been racism in any of the stuff that I've done. My heart is that of a living and loving South African."

SABC acting spokesperson Mmoni Seapolelo said: "The SABC will continue to address all issues of national importance through its editorial policies, which seek to promote and drive non-racialism, unity and equality."

In the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, Schuster said he has thought about what he would have done in retrospect - but failed to give a clear answer on whether he would have opted not to wear blackface.

"I thought about that and if it doesn't offend my fans why shouldn't I go on with it? But I will be more sensitive," Schuster said. "You must remember, I have done this for years and I never had this kind of reaction. I think it's all due to what's happening in America at the moment."

And will he do it in future?

"I haven't decided. I will finally decide once I find out if it upset them [his fans]. I have never heard from any black, coloured or Indian man who said 'you are discriminating against me' by putting on a blackface.

"If I find out that people are being discriminated against or I'm racist by wearing black makeup, if I get that feeling, I will definitely not do it again.

"At the moment I don't have that feeling but can't say I will do blackface again because there is too much uproar at the moment and I don't like to be controversial like that."

MultiChoice spokesperson Benedict Maaga said: "Showmax is part of the MultiChoice Group (MCG) and that the review of content being conducted applies to all MCG platforms.

"As Africa's leading entertainment company that is firmly rooted in the countries where our diverse customers live, the MultiChoice Group stands firmly against racism and prejudice."

Commercial channel e.tv caused a social media backlash after airing Schuster's Mama Jack on June 13.

The channel failed to respond to specific questions on the matter but said a decision will be made today.

Broadcasting Complaints Commission of SA registrar Shouneez Martin said they had not registered any complaints during this period.

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